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BOSTON — If the task at hand called for leaping into a mile-deep gorge whose floor was covered in razor-sharp rocks and rattlesnakes, Christian Fischer could probably convince you that it was going to be the greatest experience ever.
“There is no bad day in Christian Fischer’s life,” coach André Tourigny said. “He brings a smile to everybody’s face.”
For the past three seasons, however, that irrepressible smile has concealed a burning desire. After scoring 15 goals in his rookie season under coach Rick Tocchet, and 11 the following season, Fischer watched his average ice time and his opportunities dwindle. Over the past three seasons he has averaged 11:01, 12:45 and 13:07 (Tourigny’s first season as coach) of ice time. He had a combined 14 goals those three seasons as he was pigeon-holed into a fourth-line role that called for simplicity, little risk taking and, to cite a hockey cliché, getting pucks in deep.
“There were about two or three years there where — I don’t know if I should say I was not allowed to do certain things, but there were repercussions,” Fischer said. “For so long, I was not risking that play at the blue line and possibly turning it over because if I did that three years ago, Brad Richardson would cross-check me in the neck and then I wouldn’t be playing for the next 10 shifts. That’s just the kind of accountability of playing in the NHL that Shane Doan, Brad Richardson — I could go down the list of guys — taught me and I’ve learned that way of playing team first.”
Fischer embraced his role with that aforementioned smile on his face, but he always believed that he was capable of more. As the 2022-23 season dawns, Tourigny is granting him that opportunity. When the Coyotes opened the season in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Fischer debuted on a line with Barrett Hayton in the middle and Lawson Crouse on the left wing.
He logged 16:12 of ice time (sixth among forwards). The line didn’t get to finish together because Nick Schmaltz went down with an injury in the first period, forcing Tourigny to juggle his lines, but Fischer was excited about the possibilities, nonetheless.
“It was an odd game,” he said. “I think we actually had three shifts together because Nicki went down, but I think we all kind of have a similar mindset. We’re big, powerful guys and I think we all skate well.
“If we put it all together, I think there’s gonna be a lot of space out there with those big bodies.”
Crouse understands Fischer’s mindset more than most. Until last season, Crouse was pining for the same sort of opportunity that Fischer wants. He got it last season and he posted a career-high 20 goals, a career-high 34 points and a career-high 17:26 of ice time.
“Opportunity is everything,” Crouse said. “It’s what you need to show your game so it’s good to see with Fisch. I’ve known Fisch for six, seven, eight years now and he’s obviously a very hard working, great teammate. He had a really good preseason and that just builds confidence coming into the regular season. That’s kind of how I felt last year when I had a really good preseason. When you’re playing confident, you feel like you have that extra second with the puck and you feel like you can make plays.”
Fischer was a restricted free agent this summer. Rather than negotiating, he accepted the team’s one-year qualifying offer of $1,125,875 and banked on himself to prove his worth with one more year after this under team control.
“This is the best I’ve felt coming into a season; I feel my game and my speed have improved a lot.” he said. “I cut about eight pounds of fat and then put on two pounds of muscle. It’s the leanest I’ve ever been, body-fat wise, and muscle-wise it’s the highest I’ve ever been. I feel explosive and very fast.”
The other thing that Fischer worked on this offseason was his shot; particularly off the rush. He skated a lot with Auston Matthews during the summer. Doing so afforded him an up-close look at perhaps the NHL’s best shooter.
“Seeing how he releases the puck so quick really makes you think,” Fischer said. “Half his goals aren’t even fired by the goalie. It’s probably half-speed shots, but it’s off his stick so quick that the goalie doesn’t have time to get over.
“A majority of guys probably think, ‘I gotta rip this thing to score’ but if you get that pass from a three-on-two across and you get it off in half a second, your odds of scoring are much higher.”
Fischer vows that this season will produce the highest shot total of his career, and he vows to cash in on his Grade-A chances.
“He has a good shot, he has speed and he’s a big body,” Tourigny said. “He needs to get in the spot, the opportunity will come and he needs to be ready for it.”
Maturity will play a role, Tourigny said.
“It doesn’t always show (laughs) but he’s more mature as a person,” Tourigny said of Fischer’s boisterous personality. “He’s more in control of the tough moments. With an emotional guy like him, when things aren’t going well, I won’t say it’s panic but it’s just part of his personality that he’s trying to do too much and trying to get out of it by doing more. We all know less is more sometimes so that has applied really well to him.
“He needs to own his own confidence. He needs to be assertive and know he can do it. Everybody will say it, but do you really believe you will score when you will shoot? Do you really believe, ‘If I get in that spot, I will score?’”
Fischer sounds like he believes. It’s one of the myriad ways that he hopes to lead the team this season as one of its alternate captains.
“Me, Kells (Clayton Keller), Schmaltzy, Crouser and Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere) had talks this summer as our leadership group, and we had a lot of talks with Bear (Tourigny),” Fischer said. “We’re a relatively young leadership group but most of us have been here a while and I think that kind of talking that all out helps a lot, just in terms of how day-to-day operations go and how everything runs.
“But nothing changes for me. I’ve been acting the same way I have since I was 18. I think I’m a good leader, a natural-born leader. It’s very easy for me to be open with guys. When things need to be said I’m usually the guy saying it and guys expect that. I talked with [equipment manager] Stan [Wilson] and [former captain] Shane [Doan] a lot about leadership. It’s an honor for us to wear the A in this league and I recognize how much work it is. And then on top of that, you gotta go out and perform and play good hockey, but I’m ready for that. I play a very honest game and try to do the right things. I love this role and I embrace it, so that’s kind of my mindset going in and I think it’s gonna be a good year.”
Top photo of Christian Fischer via Getty Images
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